Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Marrakech Express

My darlings! I miss you! I have been in Marrakech for the past four days and dying to tell you everything about it, but you must understand that the last thing one wants to do while in Marrakech is to sit down in front of a computer screen. Quite frankly, here it is irrelevant. Makes no sense whatsoever. What is relevant is to hang out on the streets until you are so addled with colors and sounds and smells, all you want to do is go to a Hammam to try to forget the unforgettable. Pictures will be added to this blog come January, so you can get a slight idea of what I mean. Allow me to tell you that just writing this little report right now is a bit of a bitch because as you may imagine, the keyboard is half in arabic and half in French and it took me a while to find the periods and the commas.
Well, some overly simplistic observations are in order:
1. I have come to the conclusion that hustlers are exactly the same breed everywhere on Earth. Whether they be Cuban or Moroccan or whatever, wherever there are poor people and tourists, you will be hustled in more or less exactly the same way; that is, the hustler will think you were born yesterday and you cannot put one foot in front of the other without his expert assistance. He will feign to purvey a charitable service that you never solicited and then get all bent out of shape when you politely tell him to bug off. Having said this, it has been a big and very welcome surprise to find much less hustling here than we three girls expected. There is quite a bit of it but it is not as annoying as apparently it used to be. Some of it is extremely charming and some of it is pushy. Pushy people for the most part have pushy faces, in my view. But the fact is that the young king of Morocco put an end to it, quite smartly too, for this town is up to the ramparts with tourists and we all seem to be having a ball.
2. In Morocco they have elevated selling stuff to an art, a ruse, absolutely engrossing theater, suspenseful drama and great fun. As is to be expected, you will haggle from three zillion dirhams to three and still you will feel ripped off (and you probably will be), but as long as you understand that you just underwent a transformative experience, you wont go home feeling like such a loser. I do have one piece of useful advice to the novice: first day out on the souk:
a) try to control the awe and amazement written all over your face, for you will be descended upon by henna tattoo artists, snake charmers and very wily hustlers. As Bea says, better put on a smile followed by your best fart face and do not strike up naive conversations until you know the lay of the land a little better.
b) do not set out to buy ANYTHING. You will be ripped off in the most amazing way and I say this with utmost admiration. Wait until you have walked around a bit and have learned to distinguish the tourist traps from the real McCoys.
3. The Hammam is one of the greatest hallmarks of civilization: I want to open one in NY.
4. Moroccan food is delish.
I know this is quite abrupt, but as I said, Marrakech and its semi-medieval chaos beckons.


Thursday, December 21, 2006


That people everywhere are racist we knew already. But I was shocked to learn about some of the manifestations of racism here. Those of us born in Latin America feel we have some sort of connection to Spain because of the language and culture. We feel we have something in common with the Spanish and recognize many of its traits as our own. Not so the other way around. Apparently there is really nasty racism towards Latin American immigrants in Spain (the Chinese, Korean, African and North African join the list as well. The Eastern Europeans, being white have it a little less bad but not by much).
I've heard stories about a Latin American high school girl being bullied and taunted with death threats, a boy getting a bad beating, only because they hailed from South America. People I know who you could not physically distinguish from any other Spaniard, were unable to rent an apartment when they arrived because people would hear their accent and refuse to rent it to them. There is a term here used to describe people from Latin America and it is considered as derogatory as the n word: "sudaca", as from the south. This just confirms to me that the racism here is deeply ingrained. There is no respect for anything that is not local, not even those people who are a result of Spanish conquests centuries ago. For years Spain was a mostly homogeneous country and now you see more and more people of color. You see south Americans busing tables, Koreans behind the counters of delis, Chinese selling trinkets in stores and on the streets. Working class Spanish neighborhoods are now predominantly inhabited by immigrants. In terms of people, Madrid looks more like NY than it ever has. But they have a long way to go to become a more multicultural society.

Viva España!

Sorry it has taken like three full days of bachannalian eating and drinking to report back to you, my dears, but I have been too busy stuffing myself and worrying about the consequences, to look for an internet cafe. So here I am, having a splendid time in Madrid, a city that is charmingly oblivious to change in many respects and not so charmingly in others.
Charming: The food rocks. You can have wonderful food in Paris, but it is never going to be as much fun as it is here. 1. It is non-stop. 24/7 there is food to be had in this town. Standing up, sitting down, while nursing a drink, you will not go hungry. Later on I will show you pictures. I´ve been taking pictures of the food so you can believe me. Who cares about anything else?
First meal out of the gate: Outdoors at the Plaza Santa Ana attended by rude and bickering waiters, enjoying the crisp, sunny winter day with a glass of El Coto that tastes much better here than when I buy it in NY. Our waiter was too busy flirting with an Argentinian mutant amazon who seemed to be some sort of surgically enhanced celebrity to pay much mind to us, but he did bring us an order of tender, outstanding shrimp al ajillo, fresh and perfectly cooked, not frozen and overcooked to death like in NY. Then I ordered something called Revuelto de la Casa, the House Scramble and it was one of those things that make you think that Spanish food is genius. A way undercooked scrambled egg with some sort of serrano ham made in heaven by the angels, potato slivers and wild mushrooms. Magnificent right out of the gate and every meal since then has been equally fantastic.
We've had thick, incredible hot chocolate with churros at famous Chocolateria San Gines, the best ever. Every single place in Madrid is like the subway at rush hour and there is no waiting for your hostess to sit you; you have to claim your place among the hungry. We had incredible cod fritters and ham croquettes with a crisp fresh beer at Casa Labra before having a fantastic lunch of tapas at Maxi, which is owned by the friend of a friend of mine. As you can imagine I can barely walk, I have eaten so much. Today was the apotheosis: cocido madrileño at the famed Taberna de la Bola. Cocido is a stew you eat in installments and then you die. First they give you the broth with vermicelli where the meat has been stewing for ages. This soup is the epitome of comfort food (the discomfort comes later). Then out of these lovely terracota jugs come out the tenderest, most flavorful garbanzo beans, meats, chorizo, bacon, potatoes, etc. It is so good I can't even describe it, but it is impossible to finish it (unless you are a pig). Light it ain't. Suffice it to say right now I feel like Moby Dick after a particularly heavy meal (and it´s been six hours since). After it you order another genius of simplicity dessert which helps you digest: fresh oranges in orujo (a sort of grappa) and burnt sugar. HEAVEN. Then you have to walk fifteen times around Madrid to settle down.
Charming: old fashioned stores, old fashioned bakeries, old fashioned bars, old fashioned everything. We have no such thing in NY, where there are really no traditions and nobody gives a damn.
However, as my friend Joaquin points out, and this is the not-charming aspect of the deal, it is also traditional of Spain to be racist, homophobic, antisemitic and resistant to change. They are making headway at least in the gay department (there is legal gay marriage here), the Jews they expelled and burned at the stake long ago and the racism is truly appalling, even though I have never seen more new, colored faces on the streets. There begins to be here a multicultural society and hopefully it will integrate better than some of its other European neighbors.
And now, I leave you to ponder this predicament, cause I have to go TO DINNER!!!!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hola from Madrid!

Miss me yet, my darlings? You will forgive the brief hiatus, but I was crossing the ocean on the way to Madrid, land of the barking waiters and the fabulous food and drink.
Got here safe and sound, despite a harrowing experience not on the air, but at the JFK Delta terminal, which has got to be the waiting room to hell. I have already sent a letter to Delta complaining about their ground services like a year ago and I got a typically cynical corporate response absolving themselves from any responsibility. Their neglect seems particularly directed towards international passengers. I must say the Delta ground employees were stretched to the limit and despite the fact that it was seven o clock at night and they hadn't had any lunch (which would have made me genocidal), they were polite and patient. So it is obvious that Delta, the company, evidences complete disregard and disrespect not only for their customers, but for their employees as well. It is beyond comprehension why they have their check-in counters at a narrow, most inhospitable terminal where passengers have to stand in the cold at the curb in interminable, chaotic lines. It is inexcusable that passengers that arrive, like idiots, 2 or more hours beforehand end up spending more time in line than those like me, who know the drill and know that if you get there an hour an a half in advance you will be allowed to skip the line so they can dispatch you sooner. I intend to write Delta another letter. Their horrible treatment of the passengers at check in makes everybody furious. Then the moronic Neanderthals who work as airport security at JFK exacerbate matters with their unfathomable stupidity and their lack of manners. Again, these people would make great supermarket cashiers, bur they are not fit to defend us from evil.
Sorry, I had to vent. I will tell you about Madrid, a capital city that is charmingly provincial, another time. Now I´m going to the Prado to see my Velazquezes and my Goyas. Ole!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Requiem for a Greasy Spoon

It was with dismay that I passed by the now defunct Brisas del Caribe, on Broadway and Spring, and saw it had died a most unceremonious death. I thought that the news would be a hard blow to my dear friend Marcus, who regularly comes all the way from London to have breakfast at the (sniff) now dearly departed joint.
Yesterday, before we could delicately spill the beans to him at dinner, he already knew. He was pained and outraged. Welcome to ruthless gentrification and the laws of free markets, my friend.
To tell the truth, it is a miracle that Brisas del Caribe lasted as long as it did. That area has been a mall for years now, and now of course they are building condos for gazillionaires right next door, who wouldn't know a good café con leche if it hit them in the ass. The little diner joint held on for dear life for quite a while, while all around it the funky textile shops that used to line that part of Broadway started caving in to Old Navy and Puma and Sephora, and H&M.
In fact, I believe that my dear friend Marcus may have been the sole reason for the continued survival of the place. I never saw anyone else in there, but Marcus swears there were peeps in suits stopping by for café and breakfast rolls before hitting their workdays.
So long Brisas del Caribe. I'm sure now you will be a Duane Reade. A pox on them.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Perhaps we are overreacting?

A tiny little bit with the Jimmy Carter brouhaha?
I have not read the book. I will opine regardless. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.
I agree that the use of the word apartheid to describe the Israeli occupation is incorrect. To use it in a title called Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, sounds between naive and reactionary and really cheap.

“It was obviously going to be somewhat provocative,” Mr. Carter said of the title. “I could have said ‘A New Path to Peace’ or something like that.”
Really cynical and cheap.
Apartheid is a system of separation that is racist in origin and intention. It was created by white people in South Africa to segregate the blacks within their own country and it was based on ideas of white supremacy. I think that the situation in the occuppied territories is simply not the same. The Palestinians live in territories that were occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. And though it is true that they experience harshness and injustice from the State of Israel, the reason for it is not racism, but politics. And the politics are extremely complicated. I understand if people bristle at the comparison.

But Mr. Carter's claim that there needs to be a more balanced perspective about this particular conflict here in the US is not farfetched.
Mr. Carter wrote in an essay in The Los Angeles Times on Friday that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s lobbying efforts have produced a reluctance to criticize the politics of the Israeli government. The editorial boards of major American newspapers and magazines, he continued, have exercised self-restraint on the subject of Israel and the Palestinians.

A vocal pro-Palestinian viewpoint, he said, is “nonexistent in this country to any detectable degree.”

Which is the claim that Mr. Foxman said he found most offensive. “The reason he gives for why he wrote this book is this shameless, shameful canard that the Jews control the debate in this country, especially when it comes to the media,” he said. “What makes this serious is that he’s not just another pundit, and he’s not just another analyst. He is a former president of the United States.”

Seems to me that Abraham Foxman from the ADL (when is that guy going to step down already?), seems a bit overzealous in his explanation. Saying that the debate is skewed is not the same thing as saying that the Jews control the media. That's seems to me a big jump. Let's face it: the debate is skewed. Jews in the diaspora are loath to criticize Israel. They are afraid criticism could be mistaken for disloyalty. I think it is more disloyal to continue abiding and supporting a deteriorating situation that does not benefit Israel at all. There is much more healthy debate about the Palestinian situation in Israel than there is here. People there are not afraid to take sides, criticize, demand change. It's a democracy and people are free to have different opinions.
That Carter finds the living conditions of the Palestinians outrageous does not make him an antisemite. It is a known fact that life in the territories is harsh. Israel should be held up to a more exacting standard, not to make its already stressful life more difficult, but because it is a democracy and a free country, pretty much the only one in the region.
That is why I wish with every fiber of my being that Israel returns those freaking territories as soon as possible and is prepared to defend itself from the enemy OUTSIDE its borders.
Plus, why is the ADL putting ads on the newspaper? Seems a bit heavy handed to me. As are people screaming that Carter is an antisemite because he is criticizing Israel. If the book blames only Israel for the problem, then I would say yes, there may be prejudice in Carter's mind. But as the guy who brokered peace between Israel and Egypt, he of all people must know how complex and difficult the geopolitical reality is in the Middle East. In a way, I think it's good to create controversy. His books are going to sell like peanuts (!) but hopefully this will underscore the importance of everybody making every effort to try to find a solution to this problem soon.

Drastic Changes

I have a good childhood friend from Mexico who until recently, lived in Sao Paulo, Brazil for six years. Yesterday I got a holiday card from her, saying that she and her family have moved to Switzerland. Zurich, I believe.
Now, is that a drastic change, or what? I think it must be fascinating to go from the tropical, lush, sexy, disorganized, warm, unsafe, joyful, chaotic life in Brazil, to exactly the opposite; alpine, super regimented and organized, chilly, super safe and super methodical, like a Swiss watch.
She has three young kids and apparently they are adjusting well. They are very cosmopolitan and speak Spanish, Portuguese, English, some French and now they must learn German. All kids should be like that. Her husband works for a big company, and not to diminish his merits, but if you've seen one big company, you've pretty much seen them all.
As for my friend, well, she bemoans two things:
1. She was used to the friendly, helpful culture of Brazil, not to the do-it-yourself culture of the Swiss. This in translation means: No more maids. No more cheap labor.
As I was in Mexico recently, where anybody who can have a maid has two, I was thinking that people who are used to having maids (and this includes myself in my former life) become very lazy, or they expect the maids to do absolutely everything for them, to sometimes ridiculous extremes. Now, I'm sure that is not the case of my friend, who is a very sensible, decent person. This thought crossed my mind the other day, as I was lugging a bunch of very heavy supermarket bags all by myself. In Mexico nobody lugs anything unless they are poor and they are doing it for you.
I imagine that there must be maids in Switzerland but they must be outrageously expensive. I think it's going to be good for her kids and hubby to learn to pick up after themselves, something that many Latin Americans have no concept of. In Mexico, there is even a saying, "maids are the happiness of the home".
2. There are, apparently, a lot of rules in Switzerland. I'm going to have to ask her what they are.
Too many rules can be exasperating.
In Latin America, rules seem to exist so they can be broken; and broken, bent, circumvented, reinvented and ignored they are every single day. Latin America is a marvel of improvisation. When it works, it's called flexibility; when it doesn't, which is often, it's called chaos. I bet that once she vents her frustration at the unbendability of Swiss rules, she may actually enjoy the cleanliness and the order. Say what you will about the Germans, but it is lovely how everything is spic and span and runs on time.
She also sounded relatively astounded that she can send her kids to school alone on the train without fear of losing them to robbers or kidnappers. They can actually walk the streets without fear. That is a concept that is totally unknown to most children south of the border. For children in cities like Mexico or Sao Paulo or Caracas, fear and insecurity are as natural as breathing.
I am very curious as to how my friend eases into such a completely different culture. I'm sure she will miss the warmth of Brazil, not only its weather, but its people.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Putz of the Year

Take a look at the choices for Time Magazine's Person of the Year and stay away from sharp objects and the nearest window. The list is pathetic.
• So far, my chum Hugo Chavez is at the lead. He seems to be the most interesting of them all and he is also undoubtedly the funniest. However, Venezuelans who hate him are sending overearnest, hysterical, ridiculous email entreaties for people not to vote for him. As if it meant anything. Ergo, I voted for him. Whatever you think of him, Chavez is a shrewd leader who, I remind his well-to-do haters, has won the popular vote, fair and square. And though his posturing and grandstanding are ridiculous, and he still needs to fight crime and corruption in Venezuela, he has done things for the poor. Something that nobody else ever does. As far as we can tell, Chavez is ruling with a very shrewd combination of demagoguery and practicality, and with very minimal evildoing. There is no violent repression in Venezuela, there is freedom of expression and the country is still a democracy with a capitalist economy. He's just lucky he's swimming in oil money. Let's hope he doesn't blow it.
• That unspeakable, acne-ridden, uglyass, revolting Nazi bastard from Iran is such a pathetic louse that it pains me to see him on the list. So far, all he is has done is raise outrage and fear. Nothing good for anybody has come from him. As an article in the BBC pointed out, it is the height of hypocrisy that he paints his stupid Holocaust conferences as being in a spirit of freedom of inquiry when Iran is a totalitarian regime with absolutely no freedom of expression or thought, where journalists are jailed and people persecuted if they dare say anything contrary. Mahmoud is full of shit and it would be nice if the world stopped paying attention to him. I also wish him (and the stupid Naturei Karta who went to kiss his pimply ass) a slow and painful death; right now, if possible.
• I love Nancy Pelosi. I think all Democrats should be as fierce as her. But she is not Person of The Year for a second.
• You Tube can kiss my ass.
• Ditto Bush. He should be named Plenipotentiary Moron of All Time, and so we can dispense with this charade. People of the Year should be very evil or very good, but stupidity at that level should not be rewarded, let alone considered.
• Al Gore had a chance to be Person of the Year when Bush stole his election. He blew it. Now his crying about warm milk, or something of the sort. Too late now. (Seriously, I think it's cool he is championing the environment, but I'm still upset at him for his political cowardice).
• Condi? Don't get me started. Unwavering toadies should have no merit. She has done absolutely nothing good or otherwise that anybody can see, except kiss and cover her bosses' ass. Fuck her.
• And our darling Lord of the Weird Sunglasses, Kim Jong Il, well if he decides to blow us all to pieces, then we could think about it.

33% Hugo Chavez
22% Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
12% Nancy Pelosi
10% The YouTube Guys
8% George W. Bush
8% Al Gore
5% Condoleezza Rice
2% Kim Jong Il


I'm sure Israel is going to get blamed over this one too, but frankly, world, you have to admit that grown men who fire on three children and kill them are savages and there is no justification to such aberrant and abhorrent behavior. Everybody likes to dump on Israel for the occupation, including Jimmy Carter, which is fair, considering that the occupation at this point is a poisonous thorn on the side of Israel and the sooner they excise it, the better. But as long as the Palestinians are unable to even respect the sanctity of their own children's lives, how can Israel expect any guarantee of peaceful coexistence?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Who is more revolting?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with his shrewd obsession with linking the denial of the Holocaust to the Palestinian problem, or the motherfucker, vermin, lower and more disgusting than lice, ultraorthodox rabbis who are attending the Holocaust deniers' conference in Teheran?
Of course, Mahmoud hosts the conference and everybody around the world starts screaming: "it was true, it happened, the Nazis left all the records", which somehow to me, right as it is, is undignified. It is undignified to even answer or rebut these people. I know it needs to be done, just in case someone out there believes it, but I wish it didn't.
Now, people who call this Iranian conference on Holocaust denial "a sick joke" are wrong. Sick it is, but it is not a joke.

David Menashri of the Center for Iranian Studies at Tel Aviv University said Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust was linked to his nuclear ambitions.

"Ahmadinejad's main concern today is to gain nuclear weapons for Iran. And somehow he believes that by raising the issues about Israel, wiping Israel out of the map, and denying the Holocaust, he will portray the image to countries like Germany and Europe that his main intention is against the Jews."

"He believes that if he is only against the Jews, then the world will be tolerant," Menashri said.

The spurious, sophistical argument Mahmoud raises, I've heard repeated by smart people in civilized circles, this conflation of why should the Palestinians pay for what the Jews suffered in WWII?
It is an easy jump to make, one that erases the political and historical context of an entire era, and it is an argument that needs to be countered forcefully, because its logic is that if the Holocaust is a fiction, Israel has no right or claim to existence.
The Palestinian problem must be solved, as I am now beyond exhausted from repeating, by the collective political will of many parties: Israel, the US, Europe, the Palestinians themselves, the terrorist groups who create chaos and division, and the Arab countries that do their utmost to prevent peace and stability from ever happening in the Middle East. It will not be solved by denying the Holocaust and scaring the shit out of the Jews with nuclear threats and vile antisemitism.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Liberté, egalité, fraternité?

I had a very enlightening conversation today about the legacy of the French revolution, the three main political foundations of democratic life. Apparently, some lefty theorist says that without those three, the socialism of the 21st Century cannot exist. Don't worry my dears, I am not about to go into the socialism of the 21st Century, whatever the hell that is. What is interesting to me is whether we really can live up to those three standards.
With the right social and legal institutions you can more or less establish the first two. Liberté seems the easiest one: give people freedom of conscience, thought, expression, movement, etc (however, it won't do them much good if they are starving. To be free, first you need to eat). The second one, egalité, is harder, but you can try to apply the concept that everyone is equal under the law and has the same rights and obligations as their fellow citizens. Good luck with that one, if you don't have the money to hire a good lawyer. But we get brownie points for trying, at least on paper.
So far so good.
Yet Fraternité is where we are inevitably going to get stuck, because we seem to be humanly incapable of it. Just take a look around: sectarian murder in Iraq, ethnic cleansing in Darfur, and elsewhere in Africa. People just kill each other for the stupidest pretexts (religion, politics, greed) and it has been like this since day one. A few pages into the Bible, right after the part about Eden, the first two brothers are born and first thing that happens, one kills the other. Not the most auspicious of beginnings.
So Fraternité, which should be as natural to humans as the act of breathing, is the one that needs to be enforced by civilizing laws. People need to be constantly reminded: no, you can't kill your brother, no, you can't steal from your neighbor, no, you cannot abuse your workers, you can't persecute the different, the strong have to help out the weak. No, the world does not revolve around you and screw everybody else.
I have no hope for mankind. Here we are, after thousands of years of wars and discoveries and progress, and we still are killing each other like beasts; worse than beasts, because we have a conscience and they don't.

A man only his family could love

So Pinochet has finally kicked the bucket and you would think only his nearest could find him endearing but he has fans in Chile, despite the fact that he brutally disappeared about 3000 people and turned Chile into a fascist state for years, no doubt with the generous help of the US. The people who love him and are praying for him could forgive him that, but they couldn't countenance that he stole 27 million dollars from them. That was the last straw.
He was a murderer, a tyrant and a corrupt son of a bitch. For those who don't remember:
In September 1973, thousands of so-called subversives were rounded up in Santiago's national football stadium. Some of them were executed.

General Pinochet emerged from behind his dark glasses to lead the country. Before long, parliament was suspended and elections were banned.

As political opposition was crushed, riots, arrests and torture became commonplace. Thousands of people disappeared. Throughout, General Pinochet claimed he was saving Chile from communism.

Two months later, Allende appointed Pinochet commander-in-chief, believing he could rely on him. But in September, Pinochet told Allende to resign or face military action.

Allende refused and was found dead when troops entered the presidential palace. His widow said he had been killed by the rebels. Others said he had committed suicide.

Two days later Pinochet was named president of a ruling junta. Civil rights were suspended, Marxist political parties outlawed, the power of unions reduced, and heavy censorship introduced. Many intellectuals went abroad.

It became known later that the CIA had spent millions to destabilise the Allende government.

So, like many other monsters before him, he goes to meet his maker having been spared of some highly deserved earthly justice.
He claims political responsibility for the outrages he committed, which is tantamount to claiming no responsibility at all. He should feel morally responsible, but if he did, he may not have been able to live with himself. Then he has the arrogant gall to say he holds no rancor towards anybody. Geez.
Goodbye and goodriddance.

Friday, December 08, 2006

This blog is a year old

Thanks to my devoted readers for hanging in here with me.
Here's hoping that neither you nor I get bored.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

A serious rebuttal to Mr. Hitchens

This I find annoying: here's an article that pretends to offend women by saying we are inferior in the humor department, while showing how truly heroic and superior we are in the life department in general. Thanks for noticing, Mr. Hitchens, but you can't eat your cake and have it too. We may be very superior in many departments but we happen to be funny too.

Women are not less funny than men. Some women are a hoot, and they are not relegated to Lucille Ball or to Jews, fatsos or dykes. Humor is a universal human trait, and just as there are countless humorless pricks out there, there are equally countless hilarious women. I grew up surrounded with women who had a great sense of humor. My mom, my aunts, my sisters. Yes, I am Jewish, but you can't blame everything on this. I know many non-Jewish women with wicked senses of humor. I know married women, with children, gentile, good-looking, straight women who can be very funny. My friend Gloria is one of them. My aunt Maria Elena, who was Catholic and very attractive, was a really funny woman, with a sharp wit, perfect timing and dead-on delivery.

I think of a girl, Jahaira, who used to work at the ad agency where I used to work. She was a cross between Lucille Ball and Judy Holliday, a most naturally gifted funny person. Her wit wasn't razor sharp, a la Dorothy Parker, but she was just naturally expressive and funny and smart and alive and always making sweet fun of everything. She did not behave like a ditz only to curry favor with men, as some do. She was funny whether people were watching or not.

Humor is deployed many times to deflect human shortcomings, and I think this happens equally to men and to women. I learned to use humor often to try to belong, to try to survive, at school. What I lacked in motor coordination or in looks, I made up in wit and sass. I was then a Jew among Jews, so I don't think that this was a function of deploying humor because of the Jewish shortcoming, but of the human one: bad at sports, no tits; good at jokes. Period.

I defy anyone to find a woman who thinks the Three Stooges are funny, an argument that supports Mr. Hitchens' contention that men laugh at stupid things because they are stupid. But women laugh and make fun of all kinds of other things. Many of us are great at making others laugh. The problem is not that we are not funny but that this is not a trait men look for in women. According to the personals, which I have perused widely, believe me, men look for a sense of humor in women (they need someone to laugh at their jokes and validate their wit); but I don't think many men are looking for women who can compete with them in the humor department. Men don't like to compete with women, in case they are found wanting. They look for attributes where there is no competition, such as a good pair of tits. Still, some smart men like women who make them laugh, and who get their jokes. I can safely say that I have seduced more than one guy by brandishing my wit at them. They find it disarming.

Here's one paragraph that made smoke come out of my ears:
I am certain that this is also partly why, in all cultures, it is females who are the rank-and-file mainstay of religion, which in turn is the official enemy of all humor. One tiny snuffle that turns into a wheeze, one little cut that goes septic, one pathetically small coffin, and the woman's universe is left in ashes and ruin. Try being funny about that, if you like. Oscar Wilde was the only person ever to make a decent joke about the death of an infant, and that infant was fictional, and Wilde was (although twice a father) a queer. And because fear is the mother of superstition, and because they are partly ruled in any case by the moon and the tides, women also fall more heavily for dreams, for supposedly significant dates like birthdays and anniversaries, for romantic love, crystals and stones, lockets and relics, and other things that men know are fit mainly for mockery and limericks.
Jesus H. Christ! The Victorian era has been over, what, for over 200 years? I agree that religion is the official enemy of all humor (and a very good source of it too), but if women are the mainstays of religion, who the fuck are the purveyors of religion? ALL MEN. Rabbis, Popes and Imams, they really have a lock on that one. Somehow, I don't think it is only for the purposes of influencing gullible, sentimental women who consult horoscopes. One word: Islamists.
As for the untimely death of a child, is that funny to anyone? The rule applies: you can tell Jewish jokes if you are a Jew, use the word nigger if you are black, make fun of your own, but others can't.
Crystals and stones? Lockets and relics? What are we, Wiccans?

I don't know what world Mr. Hitchens lives in, but last I heard, women still don't rule this world, and at this late point in time I'm not holding my breath to wait until we do. We still make less money than men, we still are judged by inferior standards, and in many places we are stoned to death, declitorized, sold to white slavery, abused, and generally manhandled because of this neverending, pathetic male inferiority complex. Get over it already and admit it: we are equals at least, or even slightly better.
After all the calamities we've had to endure from men through the ages, you are lucky we still have a sense of humor.

It's that wonderful time of the year...

...where you can't take a step without being assaulted by fucking Christmas music.
I don't think you will ever begin to fathom, my dear readers, how much I hate and resent this invasion of musical goo in my ears. And the worst part is, we're 20 days away! And it won't stop until the end of the year. Haven't you had enough already?
Christmas music sucks. It is dreadful. And I seriously doubt that people even like it. They just pretend they do. I think Bloomberg, in his crusading spirit, should ban the abuse of Xmas music. I find it a hazard to my mental health.
Yesterday night I went to a concert in midtown. I don't think I've been to midtown at Xmas in years.
The Xmas tree at Rockefeller Center does look lovely, I have to say. But across the street, at Saks, they suddenly blast some horrid Xmas music at full volume and one really feels there is nowhere to hide.

The concert, by the way, was an oasis of peace. A concert by the amazing Tallis Scholars, who sing choral music from the Renaissance. It took place at a church, which was fitting, and you could hear the subway rumble underneath, but the otherworldly voices of the singers, and the very soothing (not in a Kenny G kind of sense, but truly meditative) choral pieces, really chilled me out. For a while, at least.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bring on the Lard

I was about to get a heart attack when I heard of the NYC ban on transfats. But I calmed down when I heard it's only the artificial transfats that are being sent to Siberia. I hope this means that people will still be able to cook with lard if they choose to, and that foods like Charles Southern Fried Chicken will not become sorry shadows of what they used to be. About fast food joints I couldn't care less because I do not patronize them. But I hope this ban better leaves untouched the good legitimate food that is our right to enjoy as New Yorkers.
Still, there is something very unsettling about a mayor who is in a crusade to restrict people from choosing their poison, instead of dealing with other quality of life issues where we simply don't seem to have a choice; such as THE RAT INFESTATION all over town, THE TONS OF GARBAGE THE RATS CALL HOME, and THE UNBELIEVABLE AMOUNT OF NOISE everywhere-- issues, which in my view, also affect our health greatly, and personally make me extremely cranky.
I don't think it is the government business to tell us what to eat. People who are fat and eat unhealthy foods will continue to do so. The poor, who can't afford to shop for ramps and baby arugula at the greenmarket, will continue to eat junk food and I can assure you that their health will pay for it, regardless of the kind of fat in their fries.

Meanwhile, 65 people got very sick with e.coli because of green onions at Taco Bell. I'm sorry but that is what happens to you for eating at Taco Bell in the first place. Who in their right mind considers Taco Bell food?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What's with the Polonium?

Polonium reminds me of Polonius, Ophelia's father in Hamlet and a famously stupid guy. Isn't it scary? That apparently everybody and their mother in Russia can get their hands on some radioactive material, poison a guy to death and blame it on the sushi?
Isn't it scary that Vladimir Putin, ex-KGB agent and ruling monster of Russia seems to deal with anybody who criticizes him by sending out people to murder his critics?
Isn't it scary that nobody can or will do anything about it?
If I was the Brits, I would be livid. Very upset, to say the least. Traces of polonium have been found in planes, and other places. in England. People are showing small to not so small traces of radioactivity. Imagine if you were one of the passengers sitting next to the poisoned guy. How can you know the poison will not affect you? How can you know you won't die of cancer brought by polonium poisoning?
The degree of roguishness and irresponsibility of the government in Russia is really worrisome.
Methinks the West should give the Russians a strong warning about not engaging in these kinds of spy novel shenanigans. If they wish to pollute themselves with polonium, they should do so at home.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Not funny

I know this is old hat by now, but I just recently saw the cellphone video of the Michael Richards disgraceful rant at the Laugh Factory. What struck me more than anything, more than the use of the n-word which Black people are allowed to use but whites aren't, was how bitterly unfunny and stupid Richards was. It was not only that he used the slur, which he shouldn't have, but also how. He was really pathetic and godawful. Not smart, not witty, just an asshole. If you do stand up, you know there may be people talking in the room, even hecklers. The pros are supposed to know how to handle them. Mr. Richards apparently is an asshole of such magnitude, such a bitter loser, that he flew off the handle and said hideous things. As some retards on You Tube have pointed out, it is also astounding that some people were laughing at his idiotic rant, but you can also see people leaving, and you can hear some mild booing and the sound of the wind slowly getting knocked out of a room. You can also hear the voice of one of the black guys telling him it was unnecessary. Basically, the guy told him he was a loser because after Seinfeld he went nowhere and was nobody, no movie deals, no TV shows, nada. I hope that hurt. I'm sure it does, because if Richards was more self-assured he wouldn't have picked such a nasty fight with an audience member.
Now Paul Mooney and Jesse Jackson want to ban the word. To me that is stupid. People know it is a charged word and they use it at their peril. Censoring it doesn't make any sense to me. According to the NYT:

...the Laugh Factory’s ban is not sitting well with all comics, including the groundbreaking comedian Dick Gregory, who was set to perform with Mr. Mooney last night) at the Lincoln Theater in Washington.

“Calling it ‘the “n” word’ is an insult,” said Mr. Gregory, whose 1964 memoir was titled “Nigger.” “It should be just as much an insult to Jews if they started changing concentration camp to ‘the “c” word’ and swastika to ‘the “s” word.’ You just destroyed history.”

He will not be joining Mr. Mooney’s boycott. “I’m going to walk out on stage,” Mr. Gregory, 75, said, “and hand my book to a white woman in the front and say, ‘Here, madam, take this “Nigger” to bed with you.’ ”

Mr. Gregory and many others are asking why stop at just one word, if purifying the comedy discourse is the goal. Why stop at protecting one aggrieved group?

I agree.


John Bolton is out. That's good news. Maybe these two coming years our new Congress will be able to revert to better, less insane policies. They should certainly take this opportunity to change things. Which is why we voted for them in the first place.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Mingle

One of the most emailed articles in the Sunday Times is an article about mingling at parties.
My friends consider me a good mingler. After one drink, I will talk to pretty much anyone and I can hold a conversation about pretty much anything. But I hate the fact that ninety-five percent of the time I am the one who always makes the effort. And when you are the one always starting the conversations, it can be exhausting. People don't know how to be gracious and social anymore. I found out not too long ago that the reason for this (people with the social graces of a wall) is mostly insecurity. Everybody that looks daunting and standoffish and aloof and superior is probably shitting in their pants thinking that everybody else there is better than them. However, we are adults and it is about time that we learned, especially if we live in what's supposed to be the greatest city in the planet, to behave graciously at a party. I've had it with rudeness.
I have started conversations with people who look like my approach is causing them internal bleeding; or even worse, with people so rude they don't even attempt to hide their indifference towards me (or is it paralyzing fear?). Sometimes, one strikes gold and talks to people who are nice, gregarious and gracious and this can be very lovely. But you have to know that as a rule, either you will be talking to your friends all night in your little inward clique, which is something I hate; or you risk being treated shabbily by assholes for no other reason than their own insecurity and lack of manners.
Now, the later you arrive, and the more inebriated the people, the far more amenable they are to opening up. The key is not to arrive so late that everybody is wasted and obnoxious, but just at the point where after probably three hours of social torture, people are starting to have a good time.
I have been to parties where after two hours people are still not talking to each other. It takes an average of more than three drinks to get people socially lubricated, which in my opinion is absurd.
I will also say that many men in NY are super lame. You can see them staring at you across the room, you can be standing right next to them and in my experience, they will not make the first move ever, unless they are from abroad. Europeans and foreigners tend to be far more adventurous than the homegrown variety when it comes to striking up a conversation. Men who stare but do not open their mouths exasperate me. Like we say in Spanish, did the mouse bite your tongue?
Some women also suck.
The other day, I saw a woman I had met at a party and with whom I thought I had a very interesting conversation. She seemed poised and intelligent and I was glad to have made her acquaintance. I saw her again at an event and though I did not remember her name (I'm great with faces, bad with names), I apologized for that and said hello anyway. She remembered my name. I asked her what she thought of a play I knew she had seen for I had seen her in the audience. She answered me in the most arrogant manner, looking down at me from the heights of her contempt. I was really taken aback. I remained cordial but I thought, WTF did I do to you?
In any case, I have met my share of women who have seen you seven hundred times at parties and still pretend you are not there. They say hi when they are alone and ignore you if they are with a date (in-ex-cu-sa-ble); they look down on you at certain parties but all of a sudden are your best friends at others, for no reason you can possibly discern. Obviously, none of these people are material for a budding friendship, and if this happens to you too often, you may want to consider switching to a social circle that is less insufferable. Luckily, I have a very nice bunch of friends who are warm and welcoming and fun and gregarious and who have quite impeccable social graces. Most of them happen to be from Latin countries. I am just saying.

The boy who cried fraud

In corrupt countries like Mexico and Venezuela, it is assumed that there will be electoral fraud no matter what.
Why? Because in countries where nobody abides by the law, it is easy to distrust the system. The system itself is tainted and the possibility of people believing in their own institutions is slim, if not nil. This is what happened in Mexico recently, with the very narrow win of Felipe Calderón. His party did use campaign tactics which are illegal in Mexico, which is why many of his opponents cried fraud. To me, electoral fraud is more narrowly defined, as illegal tactics committed at the voting booths, but I can understand why so many think the PAN stole the election. Still, there was no fraud at the voting booths themselves and the outcome should be respected. As I've said before, the opposition has six years to prepare its campaign and win next time by legitimate, democratic tactics, not by tantrum.
Today is election day in Venezuela, which most media expects Hugo Chavez to win by a good margin, because he has the support of the majority, which happens to be the poor. However, the opposition (mostly the middle class and the rich) has been crying fraud before the elections even started. My bet is that Chavez does not need to resort to fraud to win this election. The economy has improved, and he has established a lot of programs for the poor. Yes, crime and corruption are rampant and it is inexcusable that with the oil profits Venezuela is enjoying now, there are still huge gaps, and the state is not providing certain basic services like law and order or good roads or more jobs. It is also inexcusable that Chavez gives heating fuel to the people in the Bronx and neglects those at home.
Still, if the majority likes him, he will win again fair and square. The fear is that the opposition will accept this outcome.
Apparently, the US has a new method of influencing elections by conducting aggressive marketing campaigns and creating polls that give the impression that the opposition is broader and stronger than it actually is. This worked to a certain extent in Mexico, where Calderón had a very smart campaign against AMLO (basically, they compared him to Chavez to scare the hell out of people). This is happening in Venezuela, where I hear that Rosales, the opposition candidate, is a non-entity and a disgrace but he is the best that the opposition in Venezuela can come up with, which is rather pathetic considering how they have all the means at their disposal: the blanket, shrill endorsement of the private media and all the money in the world. Polls have him narrowing Chavez margins, but they are not very reliable.
I don't like Chavez (although I think he is charming in a roguish kind of way). But if he wins the majority vote cleanly, the opposition will have to accept it and try to find someone better equipped to challenge the hugely popular Chavez next time. People are afraid of violence, and in Caracas they are bracing for a crisis, stocking up on supplies and thinking of not showing up for work tomorrow and Tuesday. Hopefully, there will be a strong oppostition vote to send a message to Chavez to tone down his radical rhetoric and deal with the very legitimate discontent of many. Hopefully, whatever the outcome, it will be peaceful.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Idiots, all.

I would be surprised if even the most impoverished, ignorant Mexicans were not exasperated and ashamed at the sorry spectacle their chosen representatives in Congress are giving the civilized world.
Until yesterday, I was thinking that if AMLO or the members of his party at this juncture still threatened to derail the official presidential ceremony, it would be finally a good cause for arrest. What I didn't foresee, and what seems cowardly and stupid, is that Calderón, instead of facing these people and his entire country with the dignity of a newly elected president, chose to have his ceremony in private at midnight. This is insane. If he purports to be the legitimately elected president of Mexico, he should have gone on with the legitimate ceremony. Meanwhile, AMLO had his in broad daylight with thousands of people watching in the Zócalo. Even Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez was in attendance (which just goes to show the kind of modern and progressive socialism we're talking about, but that is a subject for a different, even more exasperated post).
The Foxists have dealt with AMLO with typical Mexican passive aggression (a behavior in which Mexicans excel). The strategy seemed to work out for a while: it allowed AMLO to sink himself with his own antics and lose support from the majority of Mexicans. It was at great economic cost and it disrupted life for millions of Mexico City residents for months, but they didn't care about that. But at this juncture, the fact that they are still allowing AMLO to run rampant and are still hiding from him as if he was the big bad wolf, doesn't lend them any credibility. In fact, it makes it look like he's running the show. I understand they may be trying to avoid the violence that AMLO is seeking. But at a certain point, the people of Mexico would like to see law and order obeyed and respected. The presidential ceremony is not something you do at home at midnight. It needs to happen at Congress and in plain view of the whole country. This little private affair does not bode well.
This is not the first time when our politicos themselves are unable to follow or establish the law. In fact, the day any of them, from any party, does so, Mexico will become a true, mature democracy, not the pathetic circus it is right now.